The reason that the Astros move to the American League West makes sense is that Houston never really was a National League Central town. Just take a look at a map if you don’t believe me. Interstates 70, 55, and 90 form a nice triangle that encompasses the five cities that will be in the NL Central in 2013. Houston, on the other hand, is 900 miles away on the Gulf of Mexico. People in Milwaukee go to college in Chicago. People in Cincinnati have family in Pittsburgh. People in St. Louis have children who go to work in Chicago. People in all of those cities are familiar with the other cities in that region; they drive through them when they are on vacation, they visit them, they even follow their baseball, NFL, and college teams to them.
There is no connection between Houston and any of those towns. That is why despite being a National League team for 50 years, the Astros have practically NO rivals. They don’t have real rivals anyway. You would be hard pressed to find fans in other cities who consider the Astros rivals. People who live in St. Louis never run into Astros fans in their everyday lives. They don't hear the Astros narrative. It’s the same way with college football. The reason why power conferences are so successful in developing rivalries is that the schools in these conferences are all located in the same parts of the country. A kid who goes to school in Austin might get a job in Houston. A young man or woman who grows up in Mississippi might decide to go to school in Baton Rouge.
I live in the center of a triangle created by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the University of Georgia, the University of Alabama, and Auburn University. I would argue this makes me an expert on rivalries. I know how they are fostered. Some would argue that geographic location is not the key. They would argue that fierce competition and a history of thrilling victories and agonizing defeats are what create rivalries. This is partially true, but what really fuels rivalries is fans, or more specifically the interaction between fans. Rivalries are fostered in the line at the gas station, at school, at work, at church, on talk-radio, anywhere two fans might meet each other. When is the last time you ran into a Reds fan?
What about the AL West? The only team that the Astros are geographically close to in that division is Texas. Well, one geographically close team is better than none. Also, the Astros won’t be the outcasts in the AL West like they are in the NL Central. And, for the record, the Astros are the odd-balls of the NL Central. Forget the old 8th wonder of the world and the rainbow uni’s; What really makes the Astros seem different and unfamiliar is Houston's location. It was fine when the Astros were in the old NL West. But now with the more geographically correct alignment, Houston is the one city that is most out of place in its division. Houston has more in common with Phoenix and Denver. But, unlike those cities, Houston has been forced to pretend that it is somehow part of America's rust belt.
Luckily, the American League West is a division full of outcasts; the Mariners are the most isolated team in Major League Baseball, the Angels are Los Angeles’ second team, the Rangers were the only team in the West located in the Central Time Zone, and the Oakland A’s are a storied franchise going through very uncertain times right now. The Astros should fit right in. There is also no long lasting rivalry in place in the division. If the Astros are good, they will be respected.
So, at the very least, the Astros would be the odd-ball new guy in baseball's odd-ball division. But, there is a chance that the move could produce much more. There is the potential that Houston and Texas will develop a rivalry. In the new AL West, there will be years in which the baseball that matters will be played in the state of Texas. Right now, fans of each Texas team are pretty indifferent about the state's other team. But, nothing has been on the line except a silly silver boot. When pennants and play-off appearances are what the two teams are battling for, it seems likely that tension, passion, and even hatred will be ratcheted up. It's very possible that Astros baseball will matter to folks outside of Houston.